As happy as I am about my little clothing swap the other day (here are some of the items), for the past couple of days I have been thinking about something completely different. I am flying out to Finland on Sunday, and I can't shake the question of airport security out of my head. The talk of the town (heck, the country) is, of course, the new airport security measures adopted by TSA. You have a choice: you can have your body scanned by AIT, which essentially takes a naked picture of you, or you can subject yourself to an extensive pat-down, which includes someone touching your breasts and crotch, and in some cases, someone putting their hands down your trousers.
In theory, I am all for safety. What concerns me is that even though the scanners are not supposed to save or distribute the pictures, some 35 000 pictures of passanger scans have already been leaked online. (They do blur out your identity, but they do so with the help of a computer programme, meaning that the images can also be "un-blurred" later on.) Call me old-fashioned, but I don't like the idea of a stranger a) looking at and possibly distributing a naked picture of me, or b) touching my private bits. In the past, I have felt touchy even about having to explain to a security official why I was traveling with an essay draft and a book about Somalia. I didn't think it was any of their business to look through my intellectual property (my research, my thoughts and ideas, my dissertation). Now I feel I would prefer to sit down with someone for an hour to explain why I wanted to take my notes on the plane, rather than deal with the new safety measures that attack our bodies directly.
The whole issue of the new extensive passanger screening raises more questions than answers: aren't these measures only tackling the terrorism-related problems we have already faced in the past? What stops someone from targeting an airport check-in area? Since children and babies are not extensively screened, what stops a terrorist from implanting explosives on a child? What stops a terrorist from smuggling dangerous items inside their body? What kind of safety do these new measures really provide, and at what cost? Does it cost me something to have to describe my dissertation to a stranger? - apart from time and convenience, probably not. But does it cost me to have my naked picture taken, viewed, and potentially circulated? - in my opinion, yes. It costs me a sense of ownership when it comes to my body.
A lot of people here in the US are concerned about the extreme safety measures limiting the individual's freedom. The word freedom, especially when used by Americans, used to be the type of word I found extremely funny. It represented the obnoxious "me-first" type of American I had seen on tv. But there is a difference between freedom to (carry a gun, do whatever I like on my own property) and freedom from (persecution, prejudice). Having become more familiar with the American frame of mind (if there is such a thing) I have understood that the principle of freedom makes up a huge chunk of the nation's backbone. And whether it is the type of freedom that allows my neighbour to keep a barking guard dog outside in the cold, or the type that means I can voice my opinion and not get arrested, there is something profoundly meaningful in the right to be an individual within a society, and to rely on the state to respect my limits. Do I feel like the airport security measures take something essential away from that notion of my freedom? Absolutely. As things stand, all I am left with is the option to not travel by plane. I don't think that is freedom, really, and unlike some brave individuals who have decided to no longer fly due to the new safety rules, I am going to step on that plane on Sunday. I am still trying to decide whether to opt out from the body scan and endure the pat-down instead.
During the past day or so, I have encountered this Benjamin Franklin quote many times: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." What do you guys think?